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Testing times ahead as Sir Chris Hoy gears up for a place at Olympics

BY the time the Olympic flame is lit in London, the British hosts will be more than match fit, with 109 test events staged in the past five years.

Nine more are planned, including the European 470 sailing championships at Largs in July.

In 41 of the 46 Olympic and Paralympic disciplines the UK will have staged at least one world or European event on home soil for the benefit of some 3.5m spectators. The next test events of the intensifying Games build-up are the three-day Cycling World Cup which opens in the Olympic Park on Friday, and the week-long Diving World Cup, which starts there next Monday.

Friday also marks the start in earnest of Sir Chris Hoy's final assault on a team place. Even for a four-time Olympic and 10-time world champion who is bidding for his 50th World Cup medal, there are no certainties.

Any prospect of a repetition of the treble he secured in Beijing (best British Olympic performance in 100 years) is almost certainly ruled out by the decision to award only one Olympic place per discipline per nation. However, that is not the case this weekend. At the World Cup everybody is there, with the leading nations saddling up three or four riders per event, bolstered by additional riders in trade teams.

No rider with serious aspirations for this summer's Games is going to miss this first opportunity to get the feel of competitive wheels on the Olympic velodrome, a fact that irks David Brailsford, British Cycling's performance director. He has made it clear that he regards inviting Britain's rivals to have a free trial by staging the test event in the Olympic velodrome as a huge mistake. As he points out, many other 2012 venues have been trialed at national championships, betraying little to opponents.

It seems very British to play the game, but it's important to look deeper. Canada gave away very little during their "own the podium" campaign, permitting limited guest access to ice and snowsport facilities at their Winter Olympics. The Canadian coroner ruled that relatively limited access was a contributory factor to the death of Georgian bobsleigher Nodar Kumaritashvili.

In canoeing, the access problem has also surfaced. Scottish Olympic slalom medallists David Florence and Campbell Walsh will not have the level of exclusivity granted to the Chinese hosts in Beijing four years ago. Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, owners of the white water course, have decided foreign paddlers will have open access prior to the Games.

Hoy's biggest threat, however, may come not from foreign rivals, but from within. He needs to lay down a marker with a convincing display this weekend over Jason Kenny when, barring an upset, he and his regular room-mate are likely to meet in the sprint. He can ill-afford to hand another victory to world champion Kenny who beat him in the sprint in Manchester last month during their last meeting. However, Hoy did enjoy revenge there, edging Kenny in the keirin.

Kenny won gold and silver in Beijing and inherited the rainbow jersey after Frenchman Gregory Bauge was banned for defaulting on anti-doping controls.

Hoy cannot consider the job done, even if he disposes of Kenny. The field includes fellow Scot Ross Edgar (who took Olympic keirin silver in Beijing), Scott Sunderland who took Commonwealth gold in Hoy's absence from Delhi last year, and world keirin champion Shane Perkins.

The Olympic velodrome is a 6000-capacity World Cup sell-out, and the atmosphere is certainly sure to be special – and not only because there is just a single toilet available for 386 riders, as highlighted by a host of disgruntled Tweets between the competitors.

That's one flaw already exposed by the test event.

This is the last event in Britain before the World Championships and will effectively be the Olympics for many British fans who are angered and disappointed not to have been able to secure tickets for the Games themselves.

As with Hoy, tensions are building for all competitors as the qualifying window narrows.

Scotland's double Commonwealth Games shooting champion Jen McIntosh is in Finland where the GB team is battling for quota places at the European Championships this week. The Aberdeen-based markswoman is not guaranteed a place come London 2012. If the GB team confirm a place for a UK shooter, their remains a domestic battle against UK rivals.

The same applies in judo. Sarah Clark, Scotland's former European champion, and multiple world and European medallist Euan Burton are part of a seven-strong GB team at the Dusseldorf Grand Prix this weekend, the most important tournament before the European Championships in April.

It all makes for not just a year of arguably the most intensely competitive sport in UK history, but also for sporting heartbreak in unprecedented measure as Britain re-writes the guidelines for future Olympic Games.

By the time of the opening ceremony, the 118 UK Sport lottery-funded events programme will have hosted more than 30,000 world class competitors, helping provide Games-standard experience for some 27,000 officials and volunteers in 35 towns and cities. Ten of these have been in Scotland, supported by Eventscotland.

Gilbert Felli, IOC executive director for the Olympic Games, said this week that such planning: "is now an example other host countries of the Games will be able to follow."

It will be no bad thing if that means advance access to venues being adopted as the norm.

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